Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mixing Work and Pleasure - French Riviera

This year Marisa has had her hands full getting familiar with her new position as the University Counselor at our school. Since August she has been meeting incessantly with students, working with them on their college essays and helping them meet their deadlines for early decision etc. At times she's been so swamped that I have felt bad for her. Two weeks ago was definitely not one of those times.............

Monaco - view of the port

Monte Carlo Casino - Monaco

Independence Day in Monaco - Marisa lucked out to catch all of the celebration

Prince Albert II made a cameo appearance at the window of his palace

All of the on-lookers were dressed to the 9's - top hats, coat-tails, fur, etc..

Statue of Grimaldi - standing outside the palace to commemorate the time when he disguised himself as a monk to re-take the palace from some posers

National Cathedral of Monaco

Gardens surrounding the palace

Gorton the fish stick guy, or is it Fisherman's Friend? You decide.

Another sweet sculpture outside the palace

Every year our school sends representatives to a conference in Europe for international schools and college representatives. It's pretty important because she gets to attend various professional development workshops, speak more personally with college reps about prospective students from our school, and promote our school to those colleges. In other words, it's about networking and marketing and this year it couldn't have been done anywhere else but in the beautiful coastal country of Monaco!!

Marisa and co-worker Roger holding it down at the booth

Marisa spent nearly the whole week in Monaco for the conference and I flew down to meet her in Nice, France (about 20 minutes by train) for the weekend. It wasn't the prettiest weekends weather-wise, but it turned out to be a relaxing and enjoyable visit.

Hotel room in Nice

View from atop hotel in Nice

Marc Chagall Museum (freakin' awesome)

Chagall - one of his "Song of Songs" paintings. Many of his paintings depict Old Testament stories.

Besides the Chagall Museum, all Marisa wanted was a stop at a French cafe

Russian church - established by many of the immigrants in Nice

Nice - French Riviera

It was a fantastic weekend trip to see a place we probably couldn't afford to stay for a week. It's probably gorgeous in the Spring/Summer.

--Justin

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Name that tune Giveaway winner is....


Justin was definitely rocking Bon Jovi's -Livin' on a Prayer. 

The funny part about this giveway is that Clare has been living in Germany for the past year and I am sure she has some other great finds from German Christmas markets.  Now she will have something from Frankfurt. Kerry, you were a close second so maybe I will bring something home to HB for you around Christmas.

Thanks for guessing and that picture is classic!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Name That Tune Giveaway!

Last Friday night we managed to wander into an Irish Pub that was having karaoke. After listening to about five depressing songs in a row (think Armageddon soundtrack) someone had to step up and get the party going. And guess who that was......?


For a chance to win an authentic wooden Christmas ornament from the Frankfurt Christmas market try and guess what song Justin sang.  Tom Jones-It's not unusual? TLC-Waterfalls? or maybe a little Chris Tomlin? What do you think?

For any of you that were present at this event please keep your answers to yourself.  Leave your guesses in the comment section and we will take creativity into consideration.

--Marisa

Monday, November 8, 2010

Portugal, Part Three - Porto

To wrap up our week in Portugal, we took a train north from Lisbon to Porto, a city most famous for its "port wine".  We stayed in an apartment on the Douro River, directly across from the many port-wine "caves" where the major producers age their wines, and in sight of three of the six bridges that span the Douro (one of which was designed by Gustav Eiffel himself - he made more than towers people).

View of the Douro River from our apartment and the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge that heads over to the port wine lodges.

View of the Douro upstream.  There are six bridges that span this river in Porto and the steel-framed one in the middle of this shot was designed by Gustav Eiffel.  

Historically, these boats carried wine from the Douro valley downstream to Porto to make port wine.  Now they're mostly for looks along the riverfront.

the Ribeira - basically a riverfront section with restaurants and shops

Porto is a ridiculously hilly town that was interesting to walk around.  Like much of Portugal, many buildings were covered with colored tiles, especially blue and white due to the Asian influences from their early trade history.  One of the best examples of this style is the central train station that has an atrium covered with blue painted white tiles that depict stories of Portuguese history.  Churches don similar tiles with Biblical scenes.

Sao Bento train station with all of the painted tile murals

Church with more of the blue tile facade.

For a relatively small city, it boasted impressive buildings and monuments which somehow reminded me of Madrid's architecture (don't tell them I said that).  We spent an entire day walking around and meandering across the river to check out the port wine lodges.

one of the main strips in Porto........the one that reminded me somewhat of Madrid.

Many of the apartments had their own funky tile designs going on.

For those that aren't port wine officionados like myself...........let me give you a brief rundown.  Port wine is not wine.  In fact, it's about as close to wine as Miller High Life is to beer (or insert any other favorite crappy beer to rip on in the blanks).  It is a medium-sweet wine that packs an alcohol content of about 20%.  To make port wine you ferment grapes for only 2-3 days, rather than 10-12 days for normal wines, allowing the natural sugar from the grapes to make alcohol.  So if port doesn't ferment for as long as normal wine, why does it have more alcohol (you may be wondering)?  The reason is because after 2-3 days a type of grape brandy (more like grappa) called aguardente is added to the wine at a ratio of approximately 4:1, which stops the fermentation of the grapes.  This added brandy accounts for the increase in alcohol content, but allows the wine to be sweeter since less of the sugar from the grapes is converted into alcohol.  At this point the port is aged for different lengths of time in different sized containers in order to give it the desired flavor.  There are many varieties such as tawny, ruby, white, vintage, and late bottle vintage which have different types of grapes and methods of aging.  We tried plenty, but it wasn't necessarily my favorite beverage.

Each major producer of port wine has their representative boat kickin' it out here on the Douro.

Inside the storehouse of the "Taylor" port wine lodge.  They age this stuff anywhere from 2 years to 40 years!  Since they re-use them as much as possible, some of these guys are over 100 years old.

Cue trendy shot of port wine glasses at our tasting.

the tasting room at Taylor's

some of these glasses go for 6 Euros for a little more than a shot, and since I'm cheap I took my time to savor the aged aroma as long as possible.

Porto should be a stop on anyone's list of places to see in Portugal.  It was a nice place to spend a couple of days before heading back to the cold reality of Frankfurt.

--Justin

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Portugal, Part Two - the Capital, Lisbon

From the Algarve we headed to the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. I was pretty pumped about Lisbon because I didn't have any expectations and for some reason I just thought it would be a cool city. Lisbon did not disappoint.  With our trusty Rick Steves' Portugal guide book we were off on a night stroll.

For those of you that don't know Lisbon is the city of seven hills. They had these funiculars everywhere.
  
Some of the coolness that is Lisbon. It was just one of those cities that has an awesome vibe from food, to art and just walking around.

After getting off the funicular this was our view overlooking the city. Can you say amazing?

From here we decided it was time to try some Port Wine. My mom had told me all about it and I wanted to see what it was about. All over Portugal you can get Port Wine, but the real place to get it is Porto (We did that later). More on Port Wine in the Porto post.

This is the Elevador de Santa Justa which was built by a student of Gustav Eiffel, you can guess what he was famous for.

Rossi Square. One thing I loved about Portugal were the titled sidewalks. You can kind of see the black and white wave title here. They said in the past people didn't like it because it made them seasick.

The following day we went on a great tour called We Hate Tourism tours and if you only have a few days in Lisbon this was a great way to see some of the sights outside the city.We took the X day trip and  for 30 euros we rode all around Lisbon in a yellow van for seven hours and it included lunch and a famous pastry called Pastel de Belem or Pastel de Nata as it is known outside of Belem.

First stop was the town of Sintra and this hillside town is definitely worth the trip.

This is inside the Pena Palace parkgrounds. Here is the statue of the warrior, who guards the place.

I don't know if this does the actual sight any justice, but this was one of the entrances at the Pena Palace. It was a under the seas theme with coral, shells, and a giant sea troll. It looked really cool close up.

Here is the actual palace. It was build by Prince Ferdinand who was cousin to King Ludwig who built the Neuschwanstein castle outside of Munich. The royal family lived in this palace until 1910.

After the palace we headed to Cabo da Roca for beautiful views and a traditional Portuguese lunch.

Next was Cascais to experience a locals only beach.

The trip wouldn't be complete without "the best ice cream in the world" at Santini. It was pretty good, but it is hard to beat Italian gelato.

Our last stop was the town of Belem. Here is the Monument to the Discoveries with Henry the Navigator leading the way.

No tour is complete without a moustache.

How can you not love a tour in a van like this? Our tour guide Sandra was excellent and I would tell anyone to hop on this van for a tour.

Lastly before heading to Porto we made one last stop at the Gulbenkian Museum. This was a museum full of one guys personal collection and it was absolutely incredible. It covered the time period of 2,500 B.C. to 2000. It included work from Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Islamic World, the Far East, Medieval Europe, Renaissance and Baroque paintings. I am sorry we didn't take any pictures, but just trust me it was something to see. I wish we had maybe one more day in Lisbon, but from what I did see I loved it. 

Final stop Porto!

--Marisa

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